NHS England has been urged to intervene to resolve the “chaotic vacuum” in pathology services resulting from a series of botched restructures.

The Royal College of Pathologists has written to NHS England to raise concerns around the “detrimental impact” the failed reconfigurations could have on services.

The college’s president Archie Prentice told HSJ the failed reorganisation in the Midlands, among others, had created a “chaotic vacuum for commissioning and providing service”.

He was also concerned commissioners were treating cost rather than quality as the key determinant on which to choose pathology providers. 

The college’s intervention follows a £500m project to restructure pathology services in the Midlands being left in tatters after clinical commissioning groups opted to abandon two procurement exercises.

Evidence has also emerged of the impact competition probes are having on plans to reconfigure pathology services after Office of Fair Trading investigations were cited as barriers to two major reorganisations.

OFT investigations have been cited as a factor in at least one of the three trusts involved withdrawing from a reorganisation of pathology services in Bristol and North Somerset, as well as up to £750,000 extra being added to the costs of a proposed service reconfiguration in the East of England.

Dr Prentice told HSJ: “We wrote to NHS England three weeks ago but I have not yet seen a reply.

“We asked them for reassurance that delays and amendments to the tendering process have not had a detrimental effect on current quality of service provided to patients.”

He added: “The problem is being addressed from the point of view of how much money we have, not on how to provide a patient-centred, integrated pathology service for the whole population’s needs. Need has been ignored. That will not work.” 

The news comes with a Department of Health review of quality assurance arrangements for NHS pathology services, due for publication before the end of 2013.

The review, led by department’s national clinical director of pathology, Ian Barnes, was sparked by a high-profile scandal at Sherwood Forest Hospitals Foundation Trust which saw the trust forced to recall 79 women due to faulty test results relating to breast tissue biopsies.